Content Warning: This article contains discussions/references to suicide, terrorism, and death.
Characters in musicals express their emotions through songs. There are upbeat opening numbers that excite the audience, love duets that warm the hearts of viewers, and show-stopping numbers that bring the house down. Also, there are countless slow ballads from musicals that make listeners cry.
Whether the musical is on the big screen or live on a Broadway stage, the audience can feel the character’s pain through the song’s lyrics and the actor’s voice. However, what makes a sad song from a musical great is its ability to impact the audience.
10 She Used To Be Mine (Waitress)
The musical Waitress is based on a 2007 movie of the same name. It’s about a waitress named Jenna, who’s stuck in a loveless marriage. She gets through each day by doing what she loves most, baking pies.
Sara Bareilles wrote all the songs in the show, including the number “She Used To Be Mine.” It’s an emotional ballad sung by Jenna, who’s pregnant. She expresses her fear of becoming a mother and begins to worry that the person she used to be is gone.
9 Lead Us Out Of The Night (Come From Away)
The 2017 musical Come From Away begins on 9/11. It tells the story of the travelers whose planes got diverted to Gander, Canada. The musical got nominated for seven Tony awards, and a recording of the stage show is currently in the works.
After many hours, the 7,000 stranded travelers were allowed off the planes. They hadn’t witnessed any of the footage of the terrorist attacks yet. So, the song “Lead Us Out Of The Night” conveys their shock while watching the news.
8 You’ll Never Walk Alone (Carousel)
The duo Rodger and Hammerstein wrote many classic musicals. One of them is Carousel, a show about the lovers Julie and Billy. One of the most well-known and saddest songs from the musical is “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The song occurs after Billy dies, and the character Nettie comforts Julie. She promises that her friends will always be there for her. She also encourages Julie to persist through despair. The song manages to be deeply sad and inspiring at the same time.
7 I’ll Never Love Again (A Star Is Born)
The 2018 movie A Star is Born is one of the multiple remakes of the 1937 film of the same name. It’s about the singers, Jack (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga), who fall in love as they bond over their aspiring dreams to become successful stars. However, as the film progresses, the audience soon sees Jack’s mental health slowly decline as he tries to come to terms with his failing career.
Near the end of the film, Jack takes his life. Ally then sings an incredibly moving song that he wrote, titled “I’ll Never Love Again.” The lyrics are about how both characters will never love another person.
6 Welcome Home (Finale) (Bandstand)
The Broadway musical, Bandstand, focuses on World War II veterans in the United States. The piano player Donnie decides to form a band with fellow veterans. To gain fame and fortune, they enter a patriotic radio competition in New York City.
Donnie writes the song “Welcome Home” for the contest. But at the competition, they perform a darker version, wanting to tell the truth about being a veteran. The lyrics detail each of the bandmates’ trauma and their struggle to assimilate after the war.
5 Empty Chairs At Empty Tables (Les Miserables)
Les Miserables is a popular movie musical and is one of the longest-running Broadway shows. It takes place in early 19th-century France, a time of tension between the people and the French government. There are many sad songs in the musical, but “Empty Chairs” is especially tragic.
Marius sings a song about his friends who died during the June Rebellion. He cries while looking at the empty chairs where his friends once sat. Viewers can feel Marius’s tremendous loneliness in this song.
4 What Would I Do? (Falsettos)
The first Broadway run of the musical Falsettos was in 1992. However, there was also a revival of the musical in 2016. A stage recording of the revival aired on PBS, and it’s currently streaming on Broadway HD.
When Marvin’s partner Whizzer is diagnosed with AIDS, their time together is cut short. Marvin sings “What Would I Do?” after Whizzer’s funeral. He states that he doesn’t regret the time spent with Whizzer and would do it all again.
3 It’s Quiet Uptown (Hamilton)
The musical Hamilton became a smash hit on Broadway in 2015. Also, a stage recording of the show is currently streaming Disney Plus in 2020. Hamilton is based on Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of America.
In the second act, Hamilton’s son, Phillip, partakes in a duel and dies. “Quiet Uptown” details the grief and estrangement of Hamilton and Eliza. At the end of the song, Eliza forgives Hamilton, and they support one another through their son’s death.
2 Words Fail (Dear Evan Hansen)
Ben Platt is known for his role in Pitch Perfect. However, he’s also known for playing Evan in the musical Dear Evan Hansen. The show won six Tony awards, including Best Actor in a Musical.
Evan Hansen is a teenager with social anxiety. He soon finds himself in a difficult situation when a student from his school, Connor, dies by suicide and his family presume that the two are friends (which Evan does not refute). In the song “Words Fail,” Evan apologizes to Connor’s family for his deceit. Evan wishes to be loved and doesn’t want people to see the worst parts of himself.
1 I’ll Cover You (Reprise) (Rent)
Jonathan Larson wrote all the songs featured in the 1996 musical Rent and the 2005 live-action movie adaption. It’s about a group of struggling artists in Manhattan. Two of the characters, Angel and Collins, fall in love and sing the romantic duet “I’ll Cover You.”
There’s a reprise of the song in the second act. However, Collins sings the song alone at Angel’s funeral. The reprise of “I’ll Cover You” is heart-wrenching and difficult to watch without crying.
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